My grandfather, Moshe Chaim Gefen, taught me how to create miracles.

At age 13, he was kidnapped and became a slave to the Nazis.

He suffered for five years… in 18 concentration camps… and endured three harrowing death marches.

His parents and siblings were all murdered. He was left with nothing.

Yet when you saw my grandfather, you’d never believe that buried deep beneath his bright smile and warm glowing eyes was a dark tale of horror.

Although it was too painful for him to talk about those horrific times, there were a few rare occasions at our family Passover Seder when he revealed some of the miracles he experienced.

On one occasion while digging in a ditch, some dirt flicked up and hit one of the Nazi soldiers in the face. The Nazi raised his gun, pointed it at my grandfather and said, “You’re dead!” The bullet flew toward my grandfather's heart but hit the shovel he was holding. He fell down and pretended to be dead.

Another time, he was standing in line only a few feet from going into the gas chambers, when suddenly a Nazi soldier called him out of the line. “Clean this up, you dirty Jew!” The Nazi yelled. A horse had defecated on the Nazi’s boot. After my grandfather finished cleaning it up, the line had ended and he was spared.

My grandfather was hanged – twice.

My grandfather was hanged – twice. The first time, the noose was around his neck and he uttered the last words a Jew says before dying, “Shema Yisrael.” Suddenly the sirens went off and the Nazis fled. My grandfather ran and escaped into the forest. It was a false alarm.

A few days later they hunted him down and again attempted to hang him. And once again, after the words of ‘Shema’ left his lips, the sirens went off. (This wasn’t a false alarm.)

Yes, the Nazis tried to shoot him, hang him and gas him – but he was saved by a shovel, a siren, and horse manure. He became a walking miracle.

Rav Moshe Chaim Gefen

Beyond Human Potential

Yet something always troubled me.

Why did my grandfather merit so many open miracles? What provokes a miracle? Do we play a part in the miracles that happen to us?

This question bothered me for many years. Then, a few weeks ago, I received an audio clip from my father. “You must listen to this!” he said.

It was a story about my grandfather told over by a friend of his. One we had never heard.

This story involved another miracle. To me it was the greatest miracle of all, which explained all the other miracles.

Many Jews were dying of starvation in the camps. One day my grandfather came upon a small piece of bread which he tucked into his jacket. It was his emergency stash. He would often be tempted to eat it but always held off, telling himself that he would save it until the very last moment when he had no energy and could literally starve to death.

One day while working in the field, my grandfather saw someone fall to the ground. He ran over and asked if he was okay. This frail, defeated, broken Jew looked up and said, “I’m done. I have nothing left in me. I cannot go on.”

Without hesitation, my grandfather reached into his pocket and pulled out his emergency piece of bread. He risked his own life to save the life of another.

Now I finally understood.

It’s easy for God to create miracles. He created the world, after all.

When you break your nature, nature breaks itself for you.

But for a mere human to risk his own life to save someone else? That is the biggest miracle of all.

What causes God to perform miracles? We do!

When you break your nature, nature breaks itself for you.

Each one of us has the power to create miracles.

Moshe Chaim Gefen and his grandson

Moshe Chaim Gefen and his grandson

In the days of the Chanukah story, the Maccabees faced insurmountable odds against the world super-power, the Syrian-Greeks. Yet with great self-confidence, they remained focused on their goal, did not despair, and in the end miraculously prevailed.

This, too, is the legacy of Moshe Chaim Gefen and all the proud Jews who refuse to compromise on goodness, justice, and faith.

Happy Chanukah!

לעילוי נשמת משה חיים בן פנחס מנחם זצ"ל